Facilities services cutback due to budget constraints

The office of facilities is stretching its dollars further this year, rolling back on services due to budget pressures within the division, a senior administrator said.

Facilities services set aside its annual painting projects and didn’t complete room cleanings, Senior Vice President for Student and Academic Support Services Robert Chernak said, because funding was funneled into the division’s higher-priority projects.

Chernak said he found out last month that students were seeing “deteriorating room conditions” because residence halls were not cleaned and inspected “as thoroughly as they should have been.”

This year’s budget for facilities remains the same as past years, Senior Associate Vice President of Operations Alicia Knight said, adding that “there have been no reductions in our activities.”

But facilities is “dealing with a crunch” due to mounting costs for utilities and spiking housekeeping expenses that expand with the University’s growing square footage, Chernak said.

He said Facilities Services suspended its painting program this summer, which would have painted several buildings based on a yearly rotation schedule. Knight declined to comment how many buildings would have seen a fresh coat of paint this fall, or how much the University saved by putting the project on hold. The University spent $250,000 painting buildings this summer, according to the University’s fiscal year 2012 capital budget, but Knight did not say how many buildings this pool of funds covered, or the cost of the program last year.

Knight said the funds saved from this project were shuffled into Guthridge Hall renovations, which included the replacement of two elevators and a system upgrade for the building’s fire alarms and sprinkler systems. The project costs $2.05 million, according to this fiscals year’s capital budget.

The University’s head of operations said the division “provided cleaning to all rooms,” but said early arrival due to Hurricane Irene “caused a larger than normal number of rooms to be impacted by earlier than expected move ins.”

The University allowed students to move in one day early because of the storm.

“When students move in early or the room’s prior occupant moves out late, we experience challenges in ensuring that rooms are adequately prepared,” Knight said in an e-mail.

Matt Galewski, chair of the Residence Hall Association, said his organization works with facilities services regularly to address student concerns.

“Based on conversations with facilities, they are working as hard as they can with the resources they have,” Galewski said. “The overarching issue is that we’re not funneling enough resources into these efforts.”

Galewski said RHA’s biggest focus this fall has been student complaints that FIXit responses are much slower this year.

A possible solution to the facilities pinch is to use funds from the Innovation Task Force to fund renovations, Chernak said, explaining that the student life division does not have access to the ITF savings, which are siphoned into Provost Steven Lerman’s discretionary budget. The task force finds savings throughout the University’s processes and operations and siphons them toward academics.

As of this November, the University has found about $34 million in savings. Funds have been put toward the increase in Columbian College of Arts and Sciences advisers, the addition of a degree audit system and research efforts across the University.

Resources saved within an individual school remain in that school and are administered under the purview of each dean. Chernak explained that resources saved in his department are funneled into the campus-wide funding pool.

The initiative has set aside $11.2 million to spend in fiscal year 2012 on various academic projects, including the launch of an online degree auditing tool and support for the reorganization of the Medical Center.

In addition to the Innovation Task Force initiative, “where the focus for the reallocations are being primarily channeled, at least now, into academic initiatives,” Chernak said the University has also sustained its commitment to fixed tuition plans and financial aid.

“To allocate to cover what becomes a more emerging priority for the institution, some of the things that would normally be taking place in other departments don’t get funded to the level people think should get funding,” Chernak said.

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